Partner Yoga for Bully Relief: One Day in Yoga Class

October 23rd, 2014

Bully_Feature

One day in middle school yoga class, something profound happened.

During roll call, I noticed a sixth grade student, new to the school, not occupying his yoga mat. Instead, he was hunched down on the floor between two tall filing cabinets. “Are you hurt?” I asked. He shook his head “No,” without looking up. I finished roll call quickly and asked students to assume child’s pose. I walked over to check out the situation.

“Are you okay, Jonas?” I asked. The teary-eyed, sanguine child peered up at me and between sniffles said, “No, not really.” I asked him if he wanted to talk about it or if he just needed some time to himself. He nodded yes.

The class began. I kept the tone quiet and contemplative. Once everyone was focused and centered, I offered students a few choices of partner yoga postures they were already familiar with and let them know they had 5 minutes to practice together. I checked back in with Jonas.

“How are you feeling?”
“Sad.”
“Do you want to let me know what you are sad about?”
“Kids.”
“Oh, are you having some conflict with students?”
“Yeah, everybody has me wrong.”
“What happened, Jonas?”
“At lunch, a bunch of kids started harassing me and calling me a p#$%^.” (We’ve edited out the slur for the purposes of this blog entry.)
“I’m so sorry. Do you have any idea what is going on with them?
“I stood up for a girl they were messing with yesterday and now they are picking on me. They said I’m too little to get anybody’s back.”
“Oh, well that’s certainly not true. Are any of those kids in this classroom right now?”
“Yeah,’ he said, hugging his knees to his chest, burying his head into his arms, crying.

His sobs caught the attention of several nearby students. I asked everyone to go back to their own mats and take child’s pose again. While students shuffled through the room, one brave girl, Kya, brisked over to me and said, “I know why he’s crying.”

She explained that a group of her friends were calling him names and saying mean things in front of lots of other students. Jonas was aware of our conversation and motioned for me to come over.

“That’s one of them,” he said.
I asked if he wanted to speak with Kya. He said yes.

As soon as Kya was near Jonas, he burst out and loudly asked, “Why do stand by and laugh while your so-called friends treat me like that?”
Kya lowered her head and said she was sorry.

At this point, the 20 other students were looking at Kya and Jonas. “Would it be okay with you both if we sit in circle and try to find some resolution to this?”
Both students nodded affirmatively.

It’s important to note here that these students attend a school where they are already accustomed to circle time using the Way of Counsel. This time, we used partner yoga as our framework for unpacking some of the issues at play in this situation, as well as explore solutions.

First, students sat back to back with a partner, bringing their attention to their breathing. I instructed students to try and feel their partners’ breathing rhythms and simply to acknowledge the other person as a human being with feelings. I asked students to remember that just because we do not understand a person, that doesn’t mean they are wrong. We can always find something in common with every other human being. Right now, we were focusing on something each and every one of us need: breathe.

We sat, focusing on our inhales and exhales for 5 or so minutes. I asked students to close their eyes while I posed a few questions and to respond by turning their palms upwards on their knees for “yes” and downwards for “no.”

“Have you ever been involved in bullying at school? Either as the one being bullied, the bully, a stander-by or an ally.” All but one student turned their palms up. Honestly, I am not sure that student understood the question since she had just immigrated from Tibet and was only beginning to learn English.

Next question, “Do you feel you have the skills necessary to take a stand for someone being bullied?” Mixed hand. Most students indicated “no.” Some said “yes.” Several said “yes” with one hand and “no” with the other.

For the final question, I asked students to keep their answers to themselves for now. “What do you think we can do as a school community to make sure everyone feels safe here?”

Now we moved into a standing partner posture wherein students face each other, holding hands. Then, bending their knees, they lean their weight back as if sitting in a chair. This partner pose requires a great deal of trust since students are relying on their partners to hold them up. If one partner lets go, the other will certainly fall. This pose also requires myself as the teacher to fully trust the innate goodness of my students. All of this granted trust, from teacher to student, from peer to peer, creates a tangible, embodied sense of support. Period. NO matter what has happened in the past or what may occur in the future, at that present moment, there exists a classroom of adolescents fully supporting each other; physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.

After practicing this partner pose several times; articulating alignment, honing attention to breath, we enter a short, but powerful discussion while still standing. We talk about what it means to support our peers. We talk through several related themes: the nobility of supporting someone even if you don’t actually like them, our shared responsibility for each other’s safety, and the detriments involved with letting someone fall. In adolescence, these questions are intriguing, provocative, right on point with their inherent fears, anxieties and hopes. Perhaps this is one reason we see so many young people trying on the behaviors we call “bully.” Teens want to know where their power lives.

Partner yoga poses give teens a keyhole into their real source of power. They learn how powerful it is to support their peers and to take a stand for each other. They cultivate compassion and empathy by entering relationships with peers where, for brief moments, the stakes are high, but there is no competition. In other words, teens learn to see the other person as a living, breathing, feeling being and to care for their safety and well-being. These are the barest necessities of accomplishing partner yoga poses. The enrichment deepens from there and extends far beyond the practice session. As one teen student put it, “When we practice yoga together, we make a bond that sticks outside of the yoga room. We are just more connected.”

The bond and connection this student speaks of is exactly what we need to help forge between adolescents if we want to alleviate bullying. Both the bullies and the bullied and everyone standing by feel alienated, alone, and lack a sense of belonging. We can talk with teens until we are blue in the face about how ineffective bullying is to create lasting feelings of power and security, or we can give them an embodied experience of connection with their peers.

For a limited time, we are accepting registrants for our 500 DVD giveaway. Educators: sign up to receive a complimentary copy of our “Partner Yoga for Teens” curriculum. Click here to register.

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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The Brief Shelf Life of India’s Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree

October 16th, 2014

india

In India, the bachelor’s degree in arts and sciences has been typically a three-year program patterned after the British system. Here in the U.S. a few international credential evaluation professionals have been recognizing the three-year bachelor’s degree from India as equivalent to the U.S. four-year degree. At ACEI, our position has been less generous. Though some U.S. credential evaluators may have been liberal with their professional judgment on this matter, it seems that many within India’s higher education institutions were not so content with their three-year bachelor degree offerings. In fact, some Indian institutions of higher education had started to champion the idea of expanding the three-year program by another year to include a research component and additional courses at the advanced level, particularly in the sciences. They viewed this move as essential if India intended to be competitive globally in the area of scientific research and development.

However, this push toward the four-year degree has been met with strong resistance from the University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s higher education regulatory and funding body. The battle brewing between some key public universities and the UGC, concerning the four-year bachelor’s degree finally came to a head last month. University of Delhi, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and several Institutes of Technology (IIT) that had either embarked on offering the four-year bachelor’s degree or were already offering them were ordered by the UGC to scrap the program and revert to the standard three-year programs.

In June of this year, University of Delhi was forced by the UGC to close its four-year undergraduate degree program because it was deemed by the human resource minister Smriti Irani to not have complied with the recommended education pathway. Even the state-run Indian Institute of Science (IISc), considered one of the prestigious institutions of higher learning, had come under the scrutiny of the UGC. IISc has been allowed to retain its four-year bachelor degree programs in physics, biology, chemistry, environmental science, materials and mathematics on the condition it adheres to changes recommended by the UGC. For example, IISc Bangalore, was able to strike a compromise with UGC by agreeing to restructure its four-year BSc to a research degree while also offer the standard three-year BSc degree. However, the same compromise was not afforded to the University of Delhi that was ordered to completely dismantle its four-year program.

It is not just the public, state-run institutions affected by UGC’s rampage, even private institutions such as Shiv Nadar Univesrity, Azim Premij University and OP Jindal Global University which had recently set up American-style four-year undergraduate liberal arts degrees were told to conform with UGC rules. As can be imagined, this move by the UGC has drastically affected the public and private institutions as well as their students who are now required to switch to the three-year program.

The proponents of India’s four-year bachelor degree see the additional year as a more holistic approach to teaching and learning, allowing for broad-based training in the humanities and sciences. The abrupt dismissal of the four-year program by the UGC is seen by many of the educators and the institutions as shortsighted and lacking any serious academic discussion that is supported by convincing facts and arguments. Many foresee that the UGC resistance toward the four-year degree will only push students away from studying sciences, pursuing careers in sciences and stymieing India’s chances in scientific innovation. It will also mean that in evaluating the three-year bachelor’s degree, ACEI will continue with its current position of recognizing the program as equivalent to three years of undergraduate study but not the four-year U.S. bachelor’s degree.

For more on the institutions affected by the UGC directive, please click here: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140828091614324

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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Free Education in Germany: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

October 9th, 2014

Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Students
Photo credit: AP/Michael Probst

Germany recently announced tuition free higher education across the country for its citizens and international students attending state/public institutions. This news has stirred many here in the U.S. who resorted to posting comments and rants on various social media platforms mocking Germany for its free higher education policy. Dubious and untrusting of anything that is “free,” many posted forecasts of a dark future for any country embarking on the same path; from the loss of academic freedom, to indoctrination, and higher taxes positioning government in charge of dictating curriculum.

Here is a sampling of the comments I gleaned from various online blogs covering Germany’s news:

“Nothing is free. The taxpayers will foot the bill and pay higher taxes because of it. Once tax dollars start paying for college tuition, then the government can start dictating what is taught, and what can’t be taught. I really hope this works out for Germany, but I’m having serious doubts that it will.”

“Actually in the U.S. professors have tons of choice in what they can teach. Whether you believe it or not now, after “free” college is established indoctrination will be a matter of course.”

“I agree with you. Nothing is free and the government dictating what is taught is not an education, it’s a propaganda machine. In addition, deciding lifestyles for your citizens at 14 years of age…no thank you! I’ll pay for my own education!”

Lest we have forgotten, higher education in the U.S., though not 100% free, until the mid-1970’s was very affordable and accessible. The GI Bill and federal grants helped students with the cost of tuition without being burdened with student loan debts on graduation. However, double-digit inflation, an oil embargo, and a sluggish economy replaced federal grants (main source of funding for students from both poor and middle-class households) with private loans. You can read more on this in a blog I wrote on the High Cost of Higher Education.

Let us dispel myths, paranoia and inaccuracies and instead of mocking tuition free education, learn a few facts on the German higher education system:

• About 1.98 million students are currently studying at German institutions of higher education. Almost half of them (48%) are women.

• A total of 376 higher education institutions offer study programs, including 102 universities, 170 universities of applied sciences and 69 private colleges. In recent years, the number of foreign students has significantly increased.

• The German higher education system has many different types of institutions offering diversity to students to select the best course for their needs. Students interested in education with more emphasis on practical knowledge will pursue studies at a university of applied sciences; those interested in theoretical research, attend a university and so forth.

• In total, there are approximately 9,500 different undergraduate programs and a further 6,800 postgraduate degree programs on offer at higher education institutions throughout Germany.

• Due to the federal system in Germany, responsibility for education, including higher education, lies entirely with the individual federal states. The states are responsible for the basic funding and organization of higher education institutions. Each state has its own laws governing higher education. Therefore, the actual structure and organization of the various systems of higher education may differ from state to state.

• Higher education institutions in Germany have a certain degree of autonomy in matters concerning organization and any academic issues. In the last two decades this autonomy has been increasingly broadened to include issues related to human resources and budget control.

It doesn’t appear that institutions of higher education in Germany have had their autonomy usurped by their government. Or, higher taxes have lessened opportunities for its citizens and international students to pursue higher education. In fact, it is the contrary.

We are misdirected if we believe it is government that will meddle in our institutions of higher education. We need to be more concerned about corporate influences and private funds from the likes of the conservative billionaire industrialists, who pledge to donate large sums to publicly funded universities on the condition that they are given the right to interfere in faculty hiring to influence curriculum and promote programs that are in line with their political and economic agenda.

A heated debate is currently underway in Colorado where high school students are protesting a revision in their Advanced Placement History curriculum proposed by a few conservative members of the School Board. The students are demanding to be taught history that in their words is not “white-washed” while the School Board is digging its heels to have the curriculum revised so that the history taught is from the American perspective. According to a report: “The elective course has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education, which has told teachers not to teach according to the course’s new framework. Being taught for the first time this year, it gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans, but critics say it downplays the settlers’ success in establishing a new nation.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/02/colorado-school-board-history_n_5924898.html

The past and recent events prove one thing; that we need to be equally concerned at the power and influence private donors and political partisan groups wield on our education system as much as our fear of government meddling and indoctrination.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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Helping Students from Conflict Zones Part I – Credentials Evaluation

October 2nd, 2014

conflict_classroom_1
Photo credit: http://www.dnaindia.com

The devastating impact on education brought on by conflict, civil wars, foreign invasions and occupations, and environmental disasters is huge. Each and everyday we hear and read news reports on conflict regions around the world. Displacement of people, the disintegration of infrastructure, destruction of education structures, breakdown of school systems through absence of teachers and unsafe environments for teaching and learning are all direct results of such calamities.

Education that may have been accessible to both sexes and peoples of different religious beliefs, and races prior to the period of conflict may suddenly be permanently disrupted and perhaps even limited by sex, race and religion. Where once women of all ages may have had access to education, that opportunity may be taken away from them during the times of conflict and war.

Civil unrest, wars and environmental disasters lead to displacement of people from their homelands fleeing to safer friendlier (or at times, not so welcoming) neighboring countries giving rise to refugee camps; the numbers of which continue to multiply each day as a new region becomes afflicted with conflict. At times makeshift schools with the help of NGO’s, religious charities and UNICEF are set up in refugee camps offering the displaced children some semblance of normalcy. The Zaatari camp in Jordan is the now the 2nd largest refugee camp in the world with a population approaching 150,000.

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Photo credit: WISE – A makeshift school by UNICEF in Zaatari, a
Syrian Refugee camp in Jordan

Some families manage to make their way out of the camps and to countries that allow them entry to settle as political refugees. In most cases, many have fled their homes with little or no belongings, much less their academic transcripts and diplomas. Then there are those who amidst the chaos and conflict choose to remain, unable to leave, trapped in a situation which they cannot control and forced to adjust to the ‘new normal’ as best as they can, given the difficult challenges that have disrupted their lives.

conflict_classroom_3
Photo credit: AFP – A Palestinian boy in a shrapnel riddled
school in the Gaza Strip

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Photo Credit:Wikipedia – Rocket fired from Gaza hits a
kindergarten classroom in Beer Sheva, Southern Israeli.

How do the international admissions and credential evaluation professionals, assist those who have fled unimaginable circumstances and arrived with the proverbial shirts on their backs? Think Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Sudan. One thing to be sure is that these individuals did not arrive in our country with the intention of studying as international students. They are not afforded that luxury which means the regular requirements we have in place whether for admission or evaluation do not apply. They may have financial issues, lack adequate documents that may have been damaged or partially completed because of the conflict, are unable to request their schools or universities to issue official transcripts to be sent elsewhere, or have fraudulent documents, and may even suffer psychologically and physically from the trauma brought on by their experiences.

Academic Credentials
Collect all documents the individual is able to provide; these could be partial transcripts, a certificate or diploma, report cards. If they have the originals, request to have them submitted with the promise they will be returned once reviewed.

Academic History
Request they provide a detailed chronology of their education beginning with their elementary school, with names, address, dates of attendance and any diplomas/certificates they received

Verification of Dates
Check the dates on their educational chronology against documented information you have on file about the country or region in question to see if they corroborate.

Contact In-country Sources
If there is a U.S. Embassy in the country from which your applicant has fled, reach out to the OSEAS Offices or REACs for assistance with verification.

Given the precarious nature of documents from conflict zones, we must exercise due diligence in vetting the information provided and do the best we can. After all, we may never know if the recently arrived refugee on our shores will be the next Albert Einstein or Madeleine Albright. For a list of famous (and not so-famous) refugees making a difference, click on this link:
Famous (and Not-So-Famous) Refugees Making a Difference

Please share your tips and experiences you have had with helping refugee students.

[In Part II of this blog I will offer tips to international admissions officers at U.S. schools and colleges in ways they can help students from conflict zones.]

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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Get Teens Talking About Mindfulness

September 25, 2014

TeensTalk_featured

Teens hear their peers’ voices and words in very different ways than they hear their parents and teachers. This is why getting teens to talk about their mindfulness experiences is a pivotal component of effective teen yoga classes.

I encourage teen yoga teachers to “get good” at facilitating potent group discussions. The benefits of the practices are enriched when teens dialogue about their challenges, goals, and achievements. Teens learn from each other’s shared experiences and get new ideas on how mindfulness can impact their lives.

Here are a few pointers to keep the discussion on track and democratic:

Write main topics and inquiries on the board or chart paper for everyone’s reference.

Set a time limit knowing you can always cut it short or extend, if needed.

Pose a specific set of inquiries such as, “What if your partner is having a tough time balancing in a pose that is easy for you? What is more important: to support your partner or practice harder poses?” Then ask for volunteers to answer. Give a few moments for students to raise hands or signify their desire to respond.

Resist the impulse to always call upon the first student who raises their hand, especially if it’s always the same student and his/her hand shoots up with an eager “oooooh, I know, I know.” For certain, eventually call upon that student, perhaps second or third. However, there is no surer way to a dead end discussion than to allow one voice to consistently set the tone or dominate the conversation. The eager student will learn by listening first to others ideas and letting those ideas integrate with their own. And, students who are more reticent to respond will be encouraged to do so if they feel they can enter in a more humble way.

Keep on eye out for meek students who really do have something to share, but don’t raise their hand or signify their desire to participate. Pose the question, “does anyone who has not responded yet want to share an idea?” Make eye contact with students who have not yet shared. Give them the opening without necessarily calling out their names. Be sure to let students know that while you would love to hear from everyone, it is perfectly fine to participate as an observer and listener. Let them know that holding space for others is just as vital to community as sharing explicitly. This will help to both alleviate any pressure to respond that quieter students may feel and send a powerful message to students who always share, but have a difficult time listening.

Limit your own commentary between students voices. In other words, you do not need to comment after every student shares! If a student shares an idea you find questionable or curious, try posing the question to the group for further discussion. For example, a student says, “I think if my partner isn’t as good at a pose as I am, I will tell them I am going to ask the teacher to be reassigned to a new partner because I really feel like practicing hard poses today.” I might respond, “Okay. Does anyone have a different idea on how to deal with that situation? How do you think your partner might feel if you said that to them?” Let the group respond. Teens hear feedback so much differently from peers than from teachers. As much as possible, guide teens to do the teaching themselves. You can guide a group of teens to water and let them show each other how to drink.

Wrap up the discussion with your commentary including a brief review of main ideas shared, your own wisdom to fill in any open questions you feel compelled to expand on and an outlook for how this discussion bolsters their practice. “Okay, time to move on to our physical practice. This was a powerful discussion on how to support each other, when to ask for help and how to help your partner find their center. I’d like to add that I trust you all to be compassionate and empathetic in your responses to each other. You all know how good it feels when another person really listens to your needs. You get to be that kind of listener for your partner today. Listening is absolutely critical to a safe partner yoga practice.”

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Dispatches from the NACAC 2014 Conference in Indianapolis, IN & 8 Fun Facts About Indianapolis

September 19th, 2014

NACAC_FLAG

This year the national conference for the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) is held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Founded in 1937, NACAC is an organization of more than 13,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education.

This is ACEI’s first NACAC Conference and I am here with our Assistant Director of Marketing, Yolinisse Moreno, where we will be tending to our booth in the Exhibit Hall for the next two days. The conference and the exhibit hall officially opened on Thursday, September 18th and will end on Saturday, September 20th.

NACAC_MASCOT
Yolinisse Moreno, Anonymous Football Player, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

Yoli_at_NACAC
Yolinisse Moreno, Assistant Director of Marketing, ACEI

Hallview_NACAC
View of a corner of the Exhibit Hall

Our first day has proven to be a great success and we have our new display banner and glossy new literature to thank for helping attract visitors to our booth. We happily shared information about ACEI and the benefits of international credential evaluations. Visitors to our booth are counselors at public and private high schools, boarding schools, colleges and universities and with the increasing flow of international students to the U.S., they are recognizing the importance and necessity of having their academic transcripts evaluated for U.S. educational equivalence. We also met the folks at US News and Education. I was happy to see them stop by our booth since I follow their online blog and Facebook posts on higher education and related news.

USNEWS_EDUCATION

Since we’re here in Indianapolis, we thought it would be good to share some facts about this city:

1. Indianapolis is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Indiana, and also the county seat of Marion County. As of the 2010 census, the city’s population is 820,445.

2. There are 19 institutions of higher learning in Indianapolis, ranging from two-year colleges and technical schools to private and public four-year universities. The largest is Indiana University-
Purdue University at Indianapolis, which offers associate, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs. Private four-year institutions include Butler University and the University of Indianapolis. Other institutions of higher education include IVY Tech State College, Marian College, and Martin University.

3. Indianapolis is home to the two largest single-day sporting events in the world, the Indianapolis 500 (Indy 500) and the Brickyard 400.

race_car
A Formula One racecar, up close and personal at the Exhibit Hall

4. The Indy 500 track is so large that Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Vatican City can all fit inside the iconic oval, covering 253 acres.

5. Though Indianapolis is often a proving ground for stars from the world of sports, every four years Indianapolis hosts the International Violin Competition—a 17-day event—drawing competitors from around the globe. In fact, the finals were held yesterday, on September 17, 2014.

6. Indianapolis’ historic Union Station was the first union station in the world, opening in September 1853. In fact, Thomas Edison worked there as a telegraph operator in 1861.

7. Indianapolis is home to the world’s largest children’s museum in both square footage and number of artifacts (500,000 square feet in size and over 100,000 exhibits and artifacts).

8. Elvis performed his last concert in downtown Indianapolis in June 1977.

Well, that’s it for now. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more updates on the next two days here at NACAC in Indianapolis.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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25 Interesting Facts About Scotland

September 11th, 2014

scotland_map

On September 16, 2014, Scotland will hold a referendum that will decide its independence from the United Kingdom. Scotland is a sovereign state in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and is part of the UK’s constitutional monarchy. If the referendum in favor of independence gathers the votes it needs, Scotland will secede from the UK.

As we wait in anticipation of the outcome of the referendum, we felt it would be helpful to learn more about this country and share with you a few interesting facts.

History

1. Scotland was an independent country and never took kindly to invaders but nevertheless it unified with England in 1707 when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of both England and Scotland after the death eased Queen Elizabeth I. Their merger formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain giving rise to factions which to this day opposed the unification. For more history check this link: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/

Geography & People

scotland_flag

2. The Flag of Scotland is a white X-shaped cross, which represents the cross of the patron saint of Scotland, Saint Andrew on a blue field. The flag is called the Saltire or the Saint Andrew’s Cross.

3. Scotland includes over 790 islands. These include groups called Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides.

4. The population of Scotland in 2011 was around 5.3 million.

5. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh while the largest city is Glasgow. Other major cities include Aberdeen and Dundee.

edinburgh
Image: Edinburgh

6. Scotland has three officially recognized languages: English, Scots (a relative of English) and Scottish Gaelic (a completely different language).

Education

7. As part of the UK, Scotland’s education system is separate and governed from within Scotland.

8. Scotland emphasizes on a broad education system and was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education.

9. There are 14 Scottish universities some of which are the oldest universities in the world.

10. The University of St Andrews, founded in 1413, is the third oldest university in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. It welcomed Britain’s first female student in 1862. It is also where the world’s first students’ union came into existence in 1882.

edinburgh_college

11. The world’s first infant school was opened by philosopher and pedagogue Robert Owen in New Lanark in 1816.

Economy & Resources

12. Aberdeen has become an important center for the oil industry after the finding of oil in the North Sea.

13. Edinburgh is Europe’s fifth largest financial center.

14. Scotland offers free water for its citizens, although oil and nuclear energy are governed by the UK.

15. Although their health system is part of the greater National Health Service, Scotland controls its implementation (which allows them to provide free prescriptions to everyone, something England does not do).

Government & Judicial System

16. Scotland also has its own judicial system and unlike most western systems, courts can reach the decision of guilty, not guilty, or not proved.

17. The police force of Scotland is separate from that of the rest of the UK.

18. Scotland also has its own distinct parliament, which is chaired by the First Minister of Scotland.

Inventions

19. Notable Scottish inventions include: the method of logarithms (1614), tarmac (1820), first-ever house to be lit by gas (1784), the waterproof raincoat (1823), the hot blast furnace (1828), the modern, rear-wheel driven bicycle (1839), the pneumatic tire (1845) and reinvented in a more practical way (1887) known today as Dunlop Rubber (now under the joint ownership of Goodyear and Sumitomo Rubber Industries), and the discovery of the anesthetic properties of chloroform in 1847 which was successfully introduced for general medical use. (There are many more inventions by Scottish inventors, a list too long for this blog. For more information check this link: http://listverse.com/2014/01/05/10-things-you-should-know-about-scotland/)

Fun / Odd Facts

20. Genetic studies are now pointing that the mutation for red hair, which now reaches a world maximum in Western Scotland and Northern Ireland, may have originated in Central Asia too. This means that Scottish people may be (partly) descended from ancient people from Central Asia. Surprised? So were we, so here’s one source: www.eupedia.com

redhair

21. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first toilets ever were possibly built in Orkney, Scotland in 3,000 BC.

22. Scotland is reputed for its whisky, known outside Scotland as Scotch Whisky. Yet, what few people know is that whisky was in fact invented in China, and was first distilled by monks in Ireland in the early 15th century before reaching Scotland 100 years later.

23. The most infamous Scottish dish is haggis, normally made with sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal’s stomach for approximately an hour.

haggis

24. Kilts, tartans and bagpipes aren’t Scottish inventions. Kilts originated in Ireland. Tartans ere found in Bronze-age or Iron-age Central Europe (Hallstatt culture) and Central Asia (Tocharian culture). Bagpipes might also be an ancient invention from Central Asia. These could be debated so here’s the link to the source http://www.tamos.net/~rhay/shenkman.html.

bagpipes

25. A few more Scottish dishes known for their odd names include: Forfar Bridie (a meat pastry), Cock-a-leekie (soup), Collops (escalope), Crappit heid (fish dish), Finnan haddie (haddock fish), Arbroath Smokie (smoked haddock), Cullen Skink (haddock soup), Partan bree (seafood dish), Mince and tatties (minced meat and potatoes), Rumbledethumps, Skirlie and so on. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous shortbread, Scotland’s most famous cookie.

Bonus fact!

26. Scotland, the official animal of Scotland is the Unicorn, appreciated for its purity and strength. http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/heritage/scottish-fact-of-the-week-scotland-s-official-animal-the-unicorn-1-2564399 .

seals

It was King James I who drew up a new royal coat of arms that included both the traditional English lion as well as the Scottish Unicorn. According to folklore (going back to the ancient Babylonians in 3,500 B.C.), the lion and the unicorn hate each other. The Unicorn is seen as representing spring and the lion representing summer. Each year the two fight for supremacy, and each year the lion eventually wins. A popular English nursery rhyme sums up the animosity and the old wars between England and Scotland:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All round about the town.

The lion’s supremacy may come to an end, if Scotland’s upcoming referendum tilts in favor of independence and secession. The unicorn will prove to be the victor after all.

Slainte! (That’s Good Health in Scots)

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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